ACLD: Walter Wink, who we recently lost, was quite convinced that Jesus’ famous “turn the other cheek” saying was meant to shame a violent oppressor into acknowledging an equal relationship with the person being struck. In this view, Jesus was not advocating passivity to abused people. So too with the “go the extra mile” saying. Do you think Wink was reading too much into these symbolic actions?
ACLD: One of the key points made by anti-Empire folks, is that the title “Son of God” (as applied to Jesus) is in direct opposition to Caesar Augustus’ title. In other words, Caesar isn’t the son of God, Jesus is. Is this not the best reading of this title?
HKB: I think we need to make a distinction here between what Jesus claimed for himself and how he was regarded later on. As for the former, there’s no doubt that Jesus referred to God as father/abba, and that he saw himself as a (perhaps even a very special) Son of God. His predominantly peasant Jewish followers in Galilee and Judaea, though, would have understood this in terms of his piety, his obedience to the will of Yahweh, and perhaps even in terms of royalty. I don’t see much evidence that Jesus equated himself with the Emperor; his central focus was on God and God’s reign, so I think (had he cared to) he might have contrasted God with the Roman ruler, but the contrast would have been a pointless one.
Later on, of course, when the gospels were composed in largely gentile environments, the phrase ‘Son of God’ took on added resonance with the Emperor who was regarded (especially in the East) as son of his deified father. This was presumably helped by the fact that the Christian message had undergone significant Christological development and followers now regarded Jesus as Son of God in a unique way. I do think that when Thomas confesses Jesus as ‘My Lord and my God’ in John 20 the audience would have connected that in some way with the demands of Domitian, and that they would have seen that all the grandiose claims of the Emperor truly belonged to Jesus. But all of this is a long way and a huge Christological leap from the Galilean prophet himself.
...more of this interview will be published on Monday...